St Peter’s, St Helier (Anglican)

History

St Peter’s was built in 1932, as the parish church of the nearby St Helier Estate*. A church centre was opened by the Queen Mother and the Bishop of Southwark in November 1960.

Appearance

The exterior of St Peter’s is notable for a mural on the front which the church website admits is “rather garish”. I think it is meant to represent the Holy Spirit flowing through a city. The interior is rather more plain. There are white walls, with a dark red cross hanging from the ceiling. A side-chapel is on the left of the church, separated from the main nave by pillars with prayer requests stuck to them.

At the very front of the church, below two rows of three long arched windows, is a banner with the emblem “Jesus Reigns”. In front of this is the altar, on which is placed two candles and a Bible.

The church website quite accurately describes the interior as “light and airy”.

Clergy

The service was taken by a woman vicar, who came across as very warm and friendly, and spoke very well during the service despite a young child who was noisily running around next to her for much of it! The Bible reading was given by a man who came up from the congregation to read it.

Congregation

The congregation numbered just over thirty. About twenty were elderly or middle-aged, and some of the younger ones were from ethnic minorities. There were four or five young children, who stayed with their parents during the service.

Service

There are two Sunday morning services, a “reflective” and “traditional” one at 9:30 and an “informal” and “lively” one at 11:15. I attended the latter of these, which on the first Sunday of the month is a communion service.

The service started with the vicar giving notices and announcements, followed by a song (the words to which were projected onto a screen at the front, and accompanied by music played over the sound system) and a prayer. The was then an activity for the children, who came up to the front and were asked to distinguish between different sources of light: matches, a torch, and a picture of the sun. This introduced the theme of the service, light, with the vicar speaking about John 8:12, Jesus being the light of the world.

After prayers of confession, a Christian music video comparing Christ to a lighthouse was shown on the screen, after which the gospel reading was given. This was Matthew 5:14-16, which speaks about how Christians are also “the light of the world”. The sermon followed, on how we can spread the light of Christ in the world, illustrated with some Christmas lights and a diagram on a whiteboard.

After another song, there came prayers of intercession. These were followed by a third song, after which prayers for preparing for communion were said, including the Lord’s Prayer and the sharing of the peace. Communion was taken with members of the congregation approaching the front to receive the bread and wine or a blessing.

Communion was followed by another prayer, after which there was a final song and a blessing.

The service lasted an hour and fifteen minutes.

Afterwards

I had to leave soon after the service finished, and so didn’t stay for very long afterwards. However, I stayed for long enough to see some of the members of the congregation go through a door in the side of the church to a small hall, where it looked like a meal was being prepared. Furthermore, a baptism preparation session of some sort was also being held afterwards.

 

*A note on location: this church is situated on the road dividing Carshalton from Morden. Although it technically falls within the boundaries of Carshalton, it uses Morden on its postal address. However, it seems to usually be referred to as being situated in St Helier, a large housing estate which straddles the boundary between the two towns. I’ve therefore tagged this review in all three locations, while using St Helier in the title.

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Carshalton Baptist Church

History
What is now Carshalton Baptist Church was originally founded in 1895 as a mission just over a mile away. In 1954, the congregation moved to Strawberry Lodge, an 18th-century Grade II listed building. A new church building built next to Strawberry Lodge was opened in 1969, but the congregation outgrew this and it was rebuilt in 1996, taking the form of the present building. Strawberry Lodge is currently hired out by the church as a conference centre.

Appearance
Despite being purpose-built as a church, the inside of the building looks a lot like a sports hall – I assume this is because it is probably sometimes used as one, going by the lines marked out on the floor. Honestly speaking, it did not look very much like a church to me, but more like a hall that was being hired by the church.

There is a stage at one end of the hall/church, on which the pastor spoke and the band played. The stage is draped in dark blue curtains, with a pulpit of sorts at the front, which is below an overhead projector screen on which the words of songs were shown. Down on the main floor, in front of the pulpit, is a cross with a crown of thorns placed over it, and on either side of that are flowers. In a corner at the front of the church (not on the stage) is a table with a white cloth draped over it, from where communion was served.

Other than a cross embroidered on the pulpit and the wooden cross on the floor at the front, there is no religious imagery in the church whatsoever – like I said, it looks more like a hall being hired out than a purpose-built church. However, that is not to say that the interior is “plain”; for example, there is a huge banner almost covering one wall which displays an advertisement for the church. There are also twenty large national flags hanging down from the ceilings in rows of four. These flags are of countries from around the world, but I have no idea why they occupy such a prominent place in the church interior – I can only assume that they are meant to signify either the universal message of the Gospel or the countries in which members of the congregation have their roots, but I can’t be sure.

Clergy
The service was led by a male pastor who led most of the prayers. There was also a band up on the stage who accompanied the songs with music, playing a guitar, electric keyboard, drum-kit and violin – the pastor himself played a saxophone with quite some talent.

Congregation
There were just over fifty people in the congregation, most of whom seemed to be young adults or middle-aged, with children and elderly people together not making up more than about a quarter of the congregation. The congregation was predominantly black, with about a third of other ethnicities, and a similar ratio applied to females and males respectively. I was rather struck by just how friendly the members of the congregation were, greeting myself and each other with real warmth and happiness. Several of them came up to me before the service to personally welcome me.

Service
Before the service started, the band on the stage were practising some of the songs which would be sung later. The service started at 10:30 with the pastor on the stage singing what I think may have been a greatly condensed version of Psalm 103, with which some members of the congregation attempted to join in with varying degrees of success, there being no words on the projector screen to follow for this first song. After this came some prayers, with members of the congregation offering their own after the pastor. This was followed by several upbeat hymns, all sung with a lot of feeling to them, some people clapping their hands or waving their arms in the air. After what was quite a long time of singing – probably between half an hour and forty minutes – notices were read out by the pastor.

After the notices, a girl from the congregation came up to the stage and sang a song while collection plates for the offering were handed around. The children then went up to the front and were prayed for by the pastor before leaving to attend a Sunday school in another room elsewhere in the church building. After more prayers, communion was taken. Stewards went around the congregation with plates of bread and small glasses of wine, giving them to people who wished to take communion.

More prayers were said, and then a reading was given, 2 Corinthians 12:1-10. The pastor then gave a sermon on the reading, reflecting on the struggles of St. Paul and speaking about struggles and setbacks that take place in a Christian life. The service was meant to finish at 12 o’clock, but the sermon was still ongoing at 12:15, meaning that I unfortunately had to leave due to time constraints of my own. However, fortunately I do not think that I missed much, as the pastor – aware that he was overrunning – had said that he was getting towards the end of the sermon, and I do not imagine that there would have been much afterwards, perhaps just a final song and a blessing.

Although the songs were very upbeat, as at the service I attended last month at Wallington Baptist, unlike my experience there I found them here to be a bit too much so. The singing was so lively that it seemed almost as if, should you not be waving your hands in the air and swaying to the beat, you weren’t doing it right! It was also loud enough for me to barely be able to hear myself sing, and I was sitting at the back – it must have been even louder for those at the front by the drums. However, although the building was a bit too bland and the singing a bit too lively for my liking, the friendliness of the congregation was a real positive point to my visit.

Afterwards
Due to the service overrunning and my having to leave before its end, I did not see what happened after the service finished. However, there were other rooms leading off from the main entrance of the church building, and the pastor mentioned during his sermon that cake is sometimes served at the church, leading me to assume that there would have been some sort of refreshments in another room afterwards.

Carshalton Methodist Church

History

The church was originally founded in 1861 on a site now occupied by a Roman Catholic church. Requiring expansion due to a rapidly increasing local population, it moved in 1911 to a larger church a few streets away, and then again only 15 years later in 1926 to a site next to the 1911 building, which now functions as the church hall.

Major Sir William James Mallinson, Bt. provided a large amount of financial support for the growing church until his death in 1944, paying for the construction of the current 1926 building, buying its organ, and financing expansions to the church halls. The 1930s saw a period of great vitality and activity for the church, with its Sunday School reaching 360 children in 1932, but this “golden age” came to an end with the outbreak of the Second World War, with men called up for service and children evacuated.

Church membership rose again through the efforts of the post-war ministers, but societal changes and the establishment of other local churches prevented the church from returning to the massive congregations it had seen in the 1930s. Cinema, dance and drama societies based on its premises help keep the church connected to the local community, and the church was host to Songs of Praise in 2010.

Appearance

The church has a white exterior with large arched windows and patterns in brown bricks. One could be mistaken for thinking that the church hall next to it, which has the exterior look of a traditional Gothic-style English church, is the actual church. This was what this building originally was (see above), and a spire was removed in 1926 to prevent confusion with the current church building.

Inside, throughout much of the building there is little to suggest what its function is. Although there are some patterns in the décor here and there, on three sides the walls and windows are rather plain, as is the ceiling, with no religious images or objects. These are all at the front.  In the chancel area stands an altar, with a wood carving of the Last Supper behind it, a table in front of it, and two pulpits on either side of that. To the right of the altar is a plaque listing the names of members of the church who died in the World Wars.

Behind the altar is a simple yet elegant stained glass window depicting a large cross set over a picture of an open Bible paraphrasing II Corinthians 4:6 – “God commanded light to shine out of darkness”. A small baptismal font is hidden away in a corner, behind a piano. Also at the front was a projector screen, although this was not used during the service I attended, and a noticeboard displayed illustrations made by the church’s children.

I found it interesting that I could only see the sign of the cross in two places – on the altar, and depicted on the stained glass window. Furthermore, the woodcarving of the Last Supper behind the altar was the only depiction of a Biblical scene – or religious imagery of any sort, for that matter – other than drawings of St. Paul’s journeys which had been made by the children of the church and pinned up on a noticeboard. Despite this, the church somehow managed to avoid having a particularly austere or minimalist feel to it.

Clergy

The service was led by a male minister, with Bible readings and some of the prayers said by four women who went up to the front from their seats in the congregation. There were no vestments, although the minister was smartly dressed in a blazer and tie.

Congregation

According to one of the church stewards, there were 73 people in the congregation for the service, including the four who went up to the front during it. Despite probably at least half being over 50, that left a good number below that age. I did notice that there were quite a few more females than males, probably at least a 3:2 ratio, and not many ethnic minorities (I can only recall seeing two people who were not white).

Service

Before the service, one of the church stewards read out notices and welcomed the congregation to the church. The service then began with a hymn, after which there were prayers led by one of the aforementioned women assisting the minister.

Being the first Sunday in the month, this was a family service, with children staying in the service instead of going out to their Sunday school. The presence of several young children was evident in the talk with which the minister followed the prayers, in which he likened the call to be in the Kingdom of God to an all-inclusive invitation to a birthday party.

After another hymn, there was a reading from the Wisdom of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) – this surprised me, as Protestants regard Sirach as being in the Apocrypha, which is not included in the Bibles which could be found in the back of the chairs. The reading (10:12-18) was a warning against pride and arrogance, and although the minister mentioned that it was in a Methodist lectionary for today it was not really linked to the theme of the rest of the service, expounded upon in the sermon.

The first part of sermon followed on from the theme of the earlier children’s talk, that is, that Christianity should seek to be inclusive, but also that Christians should try to avoid excluding others from their lives. After prayers, another hymn and an offering, there was a second reading, Luke 14:1 and 7-14. There followed the second part of the sermon, continuing to stress that Christianity must actively try to include more people. After more prayers and another hymn, there was a final reading (Hebrews 13:1-8 and 15-16) and more prayers before a final hymn and the dismissal.

The service lasted for just over an hour.

Afterwards

After the service, most of the congregation stayed behind to have tea, coffee and biscuits served at the back of the church. Following this there was a barbecue in the church garden, which I understood to take place after every family service in the summer, this one being the last barbecue of the year.

All Saints, Carshalton (Anglican)

History

There was a church at the present site when the Domesday Book was compiled (1086) – how long it had been there before that is unknown. The tower of the church is the oldest surviving part, and may be Saxon in origin.The current church contains 12th century work but has been much extended over the centuries; most dramatically in 1891 when a new nave and north aisle were added.

Appearance

The exterior of the church – mostly Victorian flint from the approached north side – does not give many hints of what is within. The interior is richly decorated; the walls are adorned with memorial plaques, paintings, a large monument to a local knight, even a Byzantine-style icon of Mary with Christ.

At the front of the church is a chancel separated from the nave by a rood screen. The chancel contains an ornate altar – I did not get close enough to get a good look at this, but from where I was sitting I could see it decorated with pictures of who I presume were various saints. Above the screen is a large crucifix, one of several dotted around the church, although by far the largest. There is also one above the pulpit, behind the lectern, and on a wall opposite a smaller altar to the left of the pulpit which had some Bibles on top.

There are also a few statues dotted around the church, most notably a large depiction of what I assume is meant to be either God the Father or Christ in Majesty, which is above the main crucifix.

On the opposite end of the church to the chancel is a baptistry with a large ornate font. The baptistry is behind a huge organ gallery, brightly decorated with blue and gold and inscribed with names of feast days (“PENTECOSTES”, “ASSVMPTION”, “CORP XPI” etc) and a royal standard indicating that it was built during the reign of George V.

As well as all the man-made ornaments, nature helped to decorate the church as well – beams of sunlight streamed down through the clouds of insence to create a very beautiful sight.

Clergy

I had been expecting a single vicar, perhaps aided by a few altar servers. There were, in fact, nine people helping to conduct the service. Three people in vestments, two men and a woman, led the prayers and processions, with one of the men having slightly more elaborate vestments than the others. One man in a black cassock gave the sermon, and another in a black cassock played the organ and gave some announcments at the end – both looked like clergy themselves, but their involvement in the service was rather minimal. Three children carried candles during processions, and an older boy swung an incense thurible back and forth during many of the prayers.

Congregation

The congregation was smaller than I had expected, with the church perhaps at about a third of a comfortable capacity at what was just under 40 people. However, there had been an earlier service in the day, and there was an evening service to come, so I presume that many who weren’t at the service I was attending had either already been that day or would do so later.There was a good balance between men and women, and a few ethnic minorities, but I noticed an imbalance in age. Other than the four altar servers, there was nobody who appeared to be younger than their early thirties (or, at best, late twenties) other than two young children who had been brought along with their parents.

Service

I was handed an order of service when I entered the church, which contained the prayers and hymns so that no books were required. After hymns and some prayers, there was a reading from Proverbs (8:1-4, 22-31), more prayers, and then a procession as the lady in the vestments took a Bible to the middle of the main aisle accompanied by the candle-holders and a face-full of incense, after which she gave the Gospel reading from John (16:12-15).

After the Gospel reading came the sermon. It being Trinity Sunday in the Anglican church, the sermon was on the three Persons of the Trinity and their relationship with humanity. The man giving the sermon, intentionally or not, had the rather useful habit of banging his hand on the pulpit every so often to emphasise a point, which probably jolted the eyes back to the pulpit of anyone who had not been paying attention.

There followed the western version of the Nicene Creed, prayers, and a hymn which was paused halfway through for an initial communion prayer. After this came more prayers, the Lord’s Prayer, and then communion. A prayer followed communion, after which notices were announced concerning a church trip and uncollected raffle prizes, and the service finished with a hymn.

Many of the prayers were sung or chanted by the priest and congregation. Several of the congregation crossed themselves during prayers as well, with the times when they should do so marked on the order of service, although less people seemed to do this as the service progressed.

The service lasted roughly an hour and ten minutes.

Afterwards

Teas and coffees were served – free, although there was a bowl for donations to which most gave some loose change – at the back of the church in a corner of the nave, together with cartons of fruit juice and a good range of rather nice biscuits. Most of the congregation left straight after the service, but a reasonable number, mingling with the clergy, stayed behind for these refreshments.